- Associated Press - Thursday, December 31, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio Homeland Security is launching a free credentialing system meant to make it easier for certain private-sector partners to deliver resources and services in restricted areas during emergencies.

Starting Friday, applications for the credentials will be accepted from organizations and companies participating in the Ohio Public Private Partnership, or OP3, a program intended to strengthen disaster response, the Department of Public Safety said.

The credentials can be issued electronically - allowing them to be displayed on smartphones - and verified more quickly by law enforcement restricting access to an area during an emergency, OHS spokesman Dustyn Fox said.

For example, a pharmacy chain might credential a driver to deliver needed medication to a disaster area, or a hospital might get to credential key employees to travel to work during a snow emergency. Authorities restricting travel or access in the affected areas could quickly verify, through a secure system, that those people have legitimate reasons for access.

The emergency preparedness coordinator for Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus said its employees have encountered that snow-emergency situation, which can make some wary because they don’t want to be pulled over for traveling when it’s banned.

“There’s still that apprehension: ‘Am I going to be able to get through? If I get out, will I be able to get the person back in?’ So I think this (credentialing) is a great idea,” coordinator Darlene Radel said.

The Emergency Partner Credentialing System, developed in-house, wouldn’t trump law enforcement restrictions to an area for safety reasons, Fox said.

Two types of credentials could be granted. One will last a week and is specific to a particular emergency and location, and the other will be vetted in advance to provide the holder broader access amid emergency-relief efforts, such as responses to flooding in multiple areas.

The OP3 program is intended to boost cooperation and help everyone get things back to normal when a disaster or large emergency occurs. It has about 235 participating organizations, agencies, colleges and companies, Fox said.

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